Dystonia & Depression

Depression is not an inevitable part of living with dystonia.

While depression is common in people with dystonia, it never has to be accepted as an acceptable or 'normal' reaction to dystonia. There are many forms of depression, and symptoms should always be evaluated as a distinct medical condition--not just a by-product of having a chronic illness or disability. There is hope and help available from many sources.

Disability and Depression
Simply leading an ordinary life with dystonia can seem like an uphill battle, especially if risk factors for depression are already present. These risk factors include:

  •     Family history of depression
  •     Extreme stresses (including domestic and financial stress)
  •     A history of recurrent depression or progressive dystonia
  •     Increasing disability

Even dystonia patients without any previous risk factors frequently suffer from clinical depression.

Nowhere is it more important for people to be treated for both physical and emotional health than when a person has a chronic illness and/or disability. Depression and disability have a unique relationship. An increase in disability can increase depression. Similarly, a deepening depression can have a negative effect on a person's ability to function.

Symptoms of Depression
People with dystonia should constantly self-monitor for symptoms of depression. Symptoms like these may signal the need for a talk with your primary care physician and probably a referral to a mental health professional:

  •     Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  •     Decreased ability to concentrate
  •     Extreme sadness
  •     Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  •     Suicidal fantasies or feelings

Other 'red flags' for depression may include:

  •     Unusual anxiety
  •     Emotional numbness
  •     Excess fatigue
  •     Loss of libido
  •     A feeling of increased need for alcohol or drugs (both prescription and non-prescription)
  •     Comments from family, friends, or co-workers that "you seem down" or "you seem depressed lately"

Tremendous Progress in Treating Depression
There are more treatments for depression than ever before. A combination of medication and talk therapy is generally accepted as the preferred and most effective treatment for depression. However, because of the variety of medical issues facing those with dystonia there is no one 'best' treatment for depression. Seek out a mental health profession who is compassionate and familiar with the needs of people with chronic illness and/or disability.

Mood disorders such as depression respond to an array of antidepressant drugs and drug combinations. If side effects are problematic, discuss them with your doctor and ask for a change of dosage or medication.

Psychotherapy has never been so comprehensive. What was once seen as a discipline for treating serious mental illness has expanded to include:

  •     Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  •     Existential therapy
  •     Short-term supportive therapy
  •     Interpersonal (or relational) psychotherapy
  •     Group therapy

Similarly, the diversity of peer counseling and related services such as support groups, hotlines, and online counseling has never been greater.

Complementary body-related therapies that can promote overall wellness when combined with your medication and psychotherapy include:

  •     Biofeedback
  •     Non-verbal body work
  •     Nutrition therapy
  •     Gentle massage
  •     Physical therapy
  •     Daily exercise as recommended by your clinician

Information provided by Jennifer Pader, MDiv, STM, a psychotherapist who works in New York City.

Accelerating Research & Inspiring Hope

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) has served the dystonia community since 1976. Join us in our global effort to find a cure.